If you've spent the past few months racking your brain for innovative ways to cut costs, jump-start sales or make your restaurant run a little more smoothly, you're not alone. Any business owner knows all too well how daunting it can be to tackle all of the problems that come along with the job of running a company in good times (not to mention keeping it afloat in turbulent financial waters!). But what if you weren't the only owner? What if you had a couple, a few or a bunch of other people to whom you could turn and who could help you shoulder the burden?
When it comes to problem-solving, your employees should be your most valuable assets: after all, those who are closest to the work are the most likely to see opportunities for innovative solutions regarding improving customer service, reducing costs and increasing efficiency. And by helping your employees feel like owners of your company, you'll be able to tap into that important source of solutions and innovative ideas right when you need it most.
Would your employees act differently if they actually owned your company, and if it was their money being spent? Probably. One of the most valuable things that you can do as a business owner and leader is to make your employees feel like they have a stake in what's going on at your company. When you get them to commit to viewing the organization as if they own it, your employees are more likely to voice their ideas for improvement, and they'll be more passionate about putting them into action.
Naturally, creating a sense of ownership in your employees doesn't mean handing over the keys to the front door and taking a vacation yourself. It simply means taking the time to ask your employees what they would do if they were in your shoes. Ask them what they would change to help ensure that the organization runs more efficiently and less expensively. What's the best way to get ideas flowing and your staff feeling like owners? The following questions are great ways to get the creative juices, and eventually, your profits, flowing:
Question 1: What would make this a better place to work?
One of the most important aspects of any well-run business is employee retention. If your employees are happy and satisfied, they stick around, meaning less time and money spent recruiting and training new employees. Happy employees are also more productive and do better work. If they like the place where they work and feel as though their needs and concerns are being addressed, they are more likely to want to do what is in the employer's best interest. Managers often shy away from asking this question for fear of what the answer might be. And most of the time, they are surprised by the answers they receive. It's often the little things that matter most to employees, and the changes are usually minor and very cost-effective. It may be something as simple as making sure that the water cooler stays stocked in the break room, or keeping the temperature in the building regulated throughout the seasons. The answers you get to this question will most likely not be outrageous requests, and your employees will appreciate the opportunity to be heard.
Question 2: How can we enhance customer service?
As your restaurant grows and you have more details to manage, sometimes it can be easy to forget what it was like working with customers every day. And it's possible that in the time since you managed customer service on your own, things have changed. Just because something worked great when your business first opened doesn't mean it's still the best, or the only, way to do things. Ask your staff how they would improve customer service. What do the customers complain about most? What do they seem to like? You may be surprised by what you hear. Your front-line servers know your customers like the backs of their hands. For example, at one organization, the staff kept receiving complaints from clients about their business hours not being convenient. Had the owner never asked his staff what they were hearing from clients, he never would have known that his hours were hurting business. Simply shifting the opening time up one hour increased both customer satisfaction and sales.
Question 3: What would you do away with?
The fact that a policy or process exists doesn't mean that it's necessary. As a business grows and evolves, its needs change. The rules and regulations that were vital at one time may now be antiquated and futile, only serving to cause extra work and headaches for your employees. The best way to weed out these tasks is to ask your employees for their opinions. If they could do away with any one thing — be it a policy, paperwork, your regular morning meeting, etc. — what would it be and why? Again, because many of them are doing these tasks every day, it's much easier for them to see when a process is ineffective or unnecessary. Hearing them out may save you time and money in the long run.
Question 4: What would you do if you were footing the bill?
Ask anybody whose money they prefer to spend, and the answer is sure to be the same: someone else's. As a business owner, this can be a scary thought: while spending an extra $50 a month on paper products may not seem like much to an employee, to the business owner footing the bill, it looks like an extra $600 per year that could be drawing interest in the bank. We are all much more conservative when spending our own hard-earned money, and helping your employees look at the company's money as their own could save you big bucks in the long run. Have your employees sit down and look at the money that is spent in each area. Ask them to imagine that money coming out of their own pockets (or paychecks). Then have them help you brainstorm ways to cut costs and eliminate unnecessary expenses. If they were paying for the coffee cups in the break room, would they be more likely to re-use their cups for refills? Suggest that they keep a lookout for opportunities or processes that could help cut some of your costs. By giving the people in your organization a sense of ownership over the way the budget is managed, you'll open yourself up to finding new ways to cut down on costs…and you'll be saving more dough for a rainy day.
Question 5: What is working well, and how can we make it even better?
All too often, we focus only on what isn't working in our organizations, and we forget to consider the things that are going well. The reality is that it's important to also look at what does work, and to figure out why. By doing so, organizations can find ways to improve upon those systems, and they can use them as a guide for success in other areas of the business. Ask your employees what they think is working well in your company. Have them make a list of the things that make their job easier or help make them more successful, and why they think that is. Then be sure to ask if there are ways that you can improve upon those things. How could they be even better? What will help systems to continue to be successful? By focusing on the positive, you will find that even more solutions can be born than when you simply concentrate on what doesn't work.
The most successful organizations are those that understand employee ownership is the magic ingredient that can propel a team to success. Every member of your organization should have a vested interest in the success of your company. And no matter what happens, don't forget that you don't have to go it alone. You hired the people who work for you because of their talent and skills — and today is the day to start putting all of that talent to use in new and innovative ways. Start now, and you will be well on your way to taking your organization to the next level.
Pamela Bilbrey and Brian Jones are the authors of Ordinary Greatness: It's Where You Least Expect It…Everywhere. Bilbrey is a consultant, coach and international speaker. She has authored three books and many articles on employee engagement, leadership and team development, and organizational change. Jones is a consultant who helps teams and organizations achieve real results with ordinary yet great tools and advice. He is the author of several articles on leadership development and employee engagement.